By Othor Cain
Former Jackson City Councilman Ben Allen, who now heads the not-for-profit Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP) group is in court this week, to answer the ten-count indictment of embezzlement charges that were leveled against him in March 2016.
Among the charges Allen is facing includes, having DJP pay $38,373 for his personal Capitol One credit card; $6,621 for his AAA Financial credit card bill; $1,787 for his cell phone bill. All charges that Allen’s defense team vehemently denies. “Ben Allen is not guilty,” said Merrida Coxwell, Allen’s lead attorney. “We will show you that my client received approval by the board of DJP for all of these ridiculous allegations, including using his personal credit cards for business expenses…this is called coding.”
Two of the charges in the indictment alleges DJP collected $86,000 from various businesses and individuals to pay for Mayor Tony Yarber’s inaugural gala. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, they have no receipts for the expenses of this gala, they wrote a lot of checks but there is no paper trail,” said Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith in his opening statements. “This gala is different from the campaign, how can you not know what you spent?”
Smith, who just recently finished a personal trial himself, called as his first witness Special Assistant Attorney General Melissa Patterson, who assisted in the investigation of DJP. “Based on my professional research, I conclude that the monies DJP collect is public money,” she said during her testimony.
“When you commingle public money and private money, all of the money becomes public.” Patterson made this determination of DJP funds, while also acknowledging that the group receives grant money and that Allen is considered a private employee. Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd is presiding over this trial that includes a jury made up of one white female, six black females and five black males with one white male serving as an alternate juror.
The trial is expected to last for at least a week.